Review Summary: In contrast to the hip-hop of that time in America, Roots Manuva can hold his own, easily.
Roots Manuva finds himself in an odd place. Due to his location of residence (U.K.) his popularity is only known in one area, unlike the American hip-hop scene where many mainstream hip-hop artists reach across the globe, regardless of their location in the U.S. Rodney Smith or Roots Manuva was born from 2 Jamacian parents (hence his odd accent). His revelation into music began as a child when strolling in a park with his mother encountered speakers with a booming bass. When asked what type of bass it was like Smith responded: “It's not like today when we go to clubs and it hurts. It was more of a life-giving bass.” That’s what I feel like ‘Brand New Second Hand’ brings to the table. I mean “a live-giving bass”, something that has heart. Roots Manuva’s first contributions towards the hip-hop scene started with the legendary label Suburban Base and their offshoot, short-lived hip-hop imprint Bluntly Speaking Vinyl. Smith decided to collaborate with many artists on different singles as the years passed by until he finally decided to release his own material in 1999. You’ve probably heard Roots Manuva whether you know him or not. His guest appearances have spanned from The Cinematic Orchestra, Leftfield, Gorillaz, DJ Shadow, Mr. Scruff, and U.N.K.L.E. to name a few. ‘Brand New Second Hand’ offers a dark and scheming production with hard-edged British lyrics that work perfectly.
‘Brand New Second Hand’ incorporates a bass-oriented background that thumps in and out. “Juggle Tings Popper” offers this throughout the entire track while Roots Manuva boasts of his upbringings and the difficulties of obstacles. Manuva’s flow is extremely effective and hinges into your consciousness with his poignant lyrics and perfect delivery he incorporates with every atmosphere. There is a rare hit-n-miss tracks though. “Dem Phonies” tries to speed-up the pace of the drum breaks and bass hits, but it feels rushed; Manuva sounds uncomfortable throughout some of the track – enough for it not to be memorable.
What’s truly great about this album is the fact Roots Manuva had already earned his respect through the scene by collaborating around the U.K. scene for years despite its lack of hip-hop performers (dare I say natural talent). This is completely evident throughout the album. He outshines all of the guest appearances, even if they do correlate well within the track. His delivery, lyrics (as ludicrous as it to us yanks), and production beats (yes he used his alterative name Hylton Smyth to produce) are done perfectly for his style. Everything Roots Manuva brings in “unique” voice with amazing credibility (something lacking in the U.K. scene to us Americans). His voice is tolerable and it grows ever minute you listen to him. “Movements” and “Soul Decay” are fine examples of his lyrical talents while sustaining the dark feel throughout the tracks.
Lyrics from “Movements”:
“Yes, we come proper with potency
Ain't no blood in my body, it's liquid soul in my vein
I dance on a thin line of sane and deranged
And it's all criss once I get neatly in the cipher
Chat like pickney to the piper that pied
As this natural mystic blows through the air”
Those lyrics sound odd or even improper when trying to figure out how exactly it would work; well I got news for you Smith will have no problems with this at all. His delivery is perfect for that type of lyrical content. Even guest spots that appear on this album don’t hinder his approach at all. “Baptism” featuring Wildflower is fantastic with the back and forth female, male vocal performances. Like most, if not all hip-hop artists there are some skits littered on this album. Neither distracts us from the rest of the album, unlike some other hip-hop artists who create long and drawn out skits that detract from the music. “Sinking Sands” is a dark, sprawling, that is littered with electronic loops, bass, and a masterful piano sequence that goes in and out. Roots Manuva’s delivery is perfect, both grim and addictive. As stated throughout this synopsis of this album Manuva’s technique blends seemingly with the atmosphere that the production delivers almost every track. The differences I see with this type of hip-hop with the more cherished musical hip-hop idols in America’s past or present is the fact this feels so organic. I’m not stating he this album destroys those legendary efforts by America’s best, but it is interesting that there is other hip-hop life other than coming the U.S. Both of Smith’s greatest assets of lyrical talent and vocal delivery enhance the music greatly. The production is flawless despite it not being highly complex or ordinary. More of his addictive release is done perfectly throughout the track “Clockwork” offering a chorus that goes back and forth with Manuva’s frustrations.
“Aint no record that can hold me, I'm oversized
Ears ever be open to the words of the wise
But there's untold cats on my corner perpetrating
Read a few books and now their talking
They're looking to convert yours truly, but I'm unruly
Plus, for the crew like cooly folk
Mixing up the Guinness with the raw egg yolk
Cos it's all about strength while we walk through the valley of the snipe, heathens”
Lastly it needs to be said. The closer for this album is fantastic. Unlike other tracks “Motion 5000” adds violins, piano, and more dark texture than ever it’s perfect to end the album. Manuva’s delivery moves forward as the sadness of the violins resonate throughout the track, while Manuva only gains more strength as the minutes pass by.
Roots Manuva’s style is incorporated beautifully throughout the album regardless of his complex lyrical content and booming bass productions. The U.K. hip-hop scene was extremely dim and nearly non-existent, Roots Manuva’s debut was a beacon of hope for this scene overseas and ‘Brand New Second Hand’ still sounds amazing after 10 years.